The Perfect Summer: Let Them Build Shacks

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, June 1994

The Perfect Summer: Let Them Build Shacks

A blueprint for constructing the most regal sand castle on the beach
By Brian Alexander

It's sunny. You're at the shore. There's sand. There's water. A sand castle is clearly in order. But you just can't do the kindergarten drip thing anymore. Deep down, you do have some style, and this is the summer you're going to make a statement, right? Avid sand shaper Julie Deprey, by day an architect with the Chicago firm Nagle, Hartray, and Associates, is going to make it easy for you.

1. The foundation
"Sand is lousy for building," says Deprey. "Its angle of repose is only 33 degrees to horizontal, which means that dry sand will crumble into a low mound, as opposed to say, dry clay, which can maintain a 45-degree angle." It's critical, therefore, to keep the sand moist at all stages. Build a three-foot-high mound with a five-foot-diameter base. Then use your trowel to flatten the top and slice near-vertical walls down the sides. This should leave you with a three-foot-high foundation, three-feet in diameter at the top.

2. The towers
To build a courtyard for the castle's highest towers, scoop sand from the top of the foundation, leaving a rim around the edge. When finished, you should have a four-inch-high wall surrounding a flat inner surface. For a tiered effect, place eight 32-ounce cupfuls of moist sand around the rim of the courtyard, then set four double-height mounds inside of those, and crown with one triple-height spire in the center, which will serve as your lookout tower.

3. The gateway
"Two towers placed close together will form the entrance to your castle and will serve as sentry posts for detecting marauding hordes of sand fleas," says Deprey. Cut an eight-inch gap in the perimeter wall with your trowel. Then pack sand into a 32-ounce cup that has been cut in half horizontally, and empty it on one side of the gap. Place a second gatehouse on the other side.

4. Architectural details
"Castles need crenellations suitable for pouring boiling oil over helpless victims below," says Deprey. Create these on the ramparts with string or wire by slicing down, over, and up. Then shape pointy roofs on the top and lower towers with a trowel, and create shingles with whatever you can find by roaming along the beach--seashells, petals, pinecones.

5. Civil engineering

Pave a spiral path from the sentry posts to the bottom of the base, reminiscent of the Guggenheim Museum, then dig a surrounding moat with a ditch running to the water, and build a bridge out of twigs or seaweed. "In the kingdom of sand," says Deprey, "you'll reign supreme over drip-sand shanties down the shore."

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